Book Chapter Pre-Lapita valuables in island Melanesia

Citation: Torrence, R.. 2004. Pre-Lapita valuables in island Melanesia. 29. V. Attenbrow and R. Fullagar (ed). pp 163-172 In A Pacific Odyssey: Archaeology and Anthropology in the Western Pacific. Papers in Honour of Jim Specht. Australian Museum: Records of the Australian Museum: Sydney.


An unusual obsidian stemmed tool found by Jim Specht at Boku Hill, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, provides evidence for the existence of valuables in the pre-Lapita period. The large amount of skill, care, and effort invested in the manufacture of this large artefact combined with its symmetry and fragility imply that, unlike the other stemmed tools found at the site, Specht’s find was not used in an utilitarian context. As in the case of axes in the Highlands of New Guinea, stemmed artefacts were therefore both useful tools and non-utilitarian objects which circulated in some form ofceremonial exchange system and for which control of the Kutau/Bao obsidian sources  may have been important. The occurrence of valuables pre-dating Lapita pottery demonstrates that social systems based on ceremonial exchange and prestige goods were not imported, but developed in situ.

Abstract: Contents/overview of Records of the Australian Museum, Vol. 29

Full PDF: Full article by Dr Robin Torrence

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